Monday, June 30, 2014

Remembering Vietnam Scholar & Peace Activist David Truong

Irvine - I will forever remember David Truong as a peace activist cum Vietnam scholar - graduate of
Stanford and offspring of a presidential peace candidate -- Trương Đình Dzũ -- in South Vietnam against Nguyễn Văn Thiệu.

David would much later become a European Union representative or consultant to Vietnam but in the post-Vietnam War years, was hounded by the US authorities who managed to pin an espionage charge on him.

David Truong between two FBI agents - photo credit: Đặng Mỹ Dung

Trương Đình Hùng or David Truong, as he came to be known in the U.S., spent many years in prison, but just before he was incarcerated he married his fellow peace movement supporter and economics researcher Carolyn Gates -  a sure sign of their commitment to each other, a commitment that lasted decades until his death last week (26 June 2014) in Penang, Malaysia, of cancer.  He was 68 , having been born on Independence Day in Vietnam on 2 September 1945.  

A beautiful event for the newlyweds, yet one clouded by foreboding, knowing that prison awaited David.  I had seen some of the government transcripts of the surveillance on his phone and apartment and knew he was not a spy - among other innocuous conversations, they captured David and his friends chatting about what to get for groceries that day.

David was a great friend to know - on the few occasions I did run into him after his release, we would partake of exquisite food.  In Amsterdam I joined him and Carolyn in the best dim sum joint in Chinatown - I remembering having to brave many drug dealers offering pot etc. before I got to the restaurant.

At historian Ngô Vĩnh Long's apartment in Hanoi in 2001, it was David who joined Long in cooking the best meal of my visit in that cold winter evening.

David's progressive lawyer, Michael Tigar, has already penned his remembrances about the national security implications of David's legal case.   The appellate decision against David is nonetheless worth reading for more details on the opposing parties legal positions.
And a Vietnamese-language remembrance by his Vietnamese friend
Nguyễn Ngọc Giao has already appeared

KUCI Subversity Online reached Ngo Vinh Long earlier today for a long chat about David, his progressive work, his legal case, and his impact on US-Vietnam relations.

To listen to that interview click on the podcast here.

It's a long conversation (almost an hour) but several key revelations:
  • Although David was definitely anti-war, he knew many of the top policymakers of the time.  In fact, William Colby - head of the notorious Phoenix assassination program, and later CIA director was one of his godfathers!  And as Prof. Long reveals, Colby once advised David to stay in the U.S. no matter what happens, otherwise he would be killed.  (Long says it could perhaps be by the CIA or from South Vietnamese agents.)  
  • According to Long, David's espionage setup was due to National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brezinski trying to "torpedo" Secretary of State Cyrus Vance's plan to normalize relations with Vietnam - with the result that an FBI/CIA double agent, Dung (or Yung) Krall, the wife of a US Navy pilot, was tasked to befriend David.
  • Krall, according to Long, was the one who packed the package she took to Paris for David, with the incriminating low-level document (that lawyer Tigar separately in his blog characterized as diplomatic "chit chat")
  • David and Long also convinced liberal Democratic Senator Hubert Humphrey to stop Food for Peace (P.L.480) funding to the South Vietnamese regime - since the two believed the RVN was seeking to sabotage rural support for the liberation of Vietnam by getting rice free from the US and then selling it cheaply to farmers to undermine the anti-government forces. The two lobbyists succeeded in stopping Food for Peace funding to the Saigon regime.
In sum, David was a target along the lines of how the Obama administration is similarly currently targeting -- journalists and researchers who receive leaks from government employees.   David was a researcher, (as his citations in Google Scholar attests) and not an actual spy.  As Long expressed in the interview -- with both David and Long having been accused of being "communists" - that is an easy political invective - but Long says that both loved the U.S. and would never have done anything to hurt their adopted country.

David's true legacy as a peacemaker and advocate of normalization of relations with Vietnam will be remembered by anti-war activists, and it will not be the one painted by a compliant mass media hesitant to be critical when "national security" is raised as a red herring. Our condolences to David's comrade-in-arms Carolyn and to his sister, Monique.  -- Daniel C. Tsang.

[Added 7/7/14: New York Times obituary: David Truong, Figure in U.S. Wiretap Case, Dies at 68]
[Added 7/15/14: Washinton Post obituary: David Truong, defendant in espionage case after Vietnam War, dies at 68]